Reducing toxicity

Chemicals in the environment are a growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted a study of 3,000 people from around the country that found traces of 27 chemicals in all of the sampled population, including metals, pesticides, phthalates, and tobacco by-products. While levels are currently below those thought to pose a health risk, their presence indicates there are opportunities for reducing exposure to toxic chemicals through pollution prevention.

With the exception of lead and perhaps mercury, none of these chemicals would have been found in people 70 years ago. Air, water, and soil sampling also document the unintended presence of many toxic chemicals due to human activity.

Persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBT)

This chapter of the 2002 Pollution Prevention Evaluation Report evaluates progress and opportunities to reduce persistent bioaccumulative toxics through pollution prevention (P2). Thanks to the opportunities available through alternative products, P2 technologies, and strong partnerships, many of MPCA’s P2 activities to reduce PBTs are targeted on dioxins and mercury.
PDF icon Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics (100Kb)


For centuries, it has been known that mercury has toxic effects on humans and wildlife. Mercury is a PBT that affects the nervous system, kidneys, and other organs. Children who are exposed to mercury through their mothers’ consumption of fish are particularly at risk. The highest priority of any pollution prevention program is to eliminate the use of mercury in the first place.   


Lead is known to have toxic effects on humans and wildlife. It primarily affects the nervous system, but also can damage the circulatory system and cause reproductive harm. Children exposed to lead are at risk of developmental disabilities. Toxicity reduction efforts for lead involve identifying alternatives to lead-containing products and ensuring that lead-containing wastes are managed safely.


Pesticides are agents used to control unwanted insects, plants, rodents, fungi, mold or bacteria. Pollution prevention in regard to pesticides means accomplishing pest control with practices that eliminate or use the smallest amount and the least-toxic types of pesticides available. Although progress has been made, research shows that many opportunities remain for PDF icon pesticide pollution prevention.

University of Minnesota Extension Service  |
Extension's site serves as a gateway to a broad collection of resources on pesticides. Links to general information, as well as details about the health and toxicity characteristics of pesticides and how they are regulated.

Chemical and materials selection

One of the most important steps during product design and development is the selection of raw materials and manufacturing inputs. The selection of raw materials—which chemicals or materials are used—can determine how consumers perceive a product and its impact on human health and the environment. Over 70,000 chemicals that have been registered for use in the United States; designers need to know which are of the most concern and how to identify alternatives.

PDF icon Chemical and Materials Selection (130Kb)

Household hazardous waste

When certain household chemicals are not used up, they can become household hazardous waste (HHW). Many consumer products contain the same chemicals as strictly regulated industrial wastes and pose similar environmental and health problems. The state's HHW program provides education about alternative non-toxic products and household hazardous waste purchase, use, storage, and disposal.